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Jason Chen

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  1. Hello again! It feels like forever since I've been back. Last year, I left this "Bleeding Blue and Green" blog (special thanks to Derek Jory for the opportunity, should he ever see this) after the website overhaul and started my own blog, Armchair Hockey. Check it out if you have a chance! There's some more recent stuff about the Rick Nash trade sweepstakes, the Kings-Flyers relationship and more. The Canucks pick 26th this year, and unfortunately for them it's a strong year for defensemen but not much to speak of in terms of forwards. The Canucks need more offensive punch up front, especially on the wings. I suspect this draft will be more for teams looking to plug lineup holes, since very few prospects (perhaps only Yakupov and maybe Murray or Galchenyuk) have the talent to be considered franchise players. Regardless, check out my 2012 mock draft to see who the Canucks might pick! It's been quite a walk down memory lane. Here's some of my favourite posts from years past. Public enemy number one Theo Fleury was right but got the year wrong. The Canucks were bounced in the first round in 2012, not 2011. Regardless, the new team with a huge target behinds its back is now the LA Kings. There's no question about that one. Keep an eye out for Joe I highlighted some of the top NCAA prospects, including the Canucks' own Joe Cannata, you should keep an eye on. Here's a update: - Dumoulin is foregoing his senior year at Boston College and just inked a three-year entry level contract. Faulk finished with 22 points in a pretty impressive rookie campaign. Along with McBain and Ryan Murphy, the Canes now have a deep blueline and is my reasoning for them taking a forward at the draft. - Cam Atkinson and Jason Zucker got call-ups to the big club and both are tabbed to be regulars next year. Both are quick and dangerous goal scorers when given the opportunity. - Jon Merrill (NJ) and Danny Kristo (Montreal) will likely head back to the college ranks. Both are still unsigned. Merrill is making his way back into the Wolverines lineup after going through some off-ice issues that resulted in a suspension from the team. - Chris Kreider needs no explanation. Best team ever? I stand by my belief that the 2010-11 Canucks were the most talented bunch assembled in franchise history, and also the best chance they had at a Cup. I thought we had a much weaker group this year and there's lots of holes to fill up front for next season. What's wrong with swagger? In which I supported the antics of PK Subban and Linus Omark, while pointing out that super classy guy Henrik Sedin does the same once in a while. It's fun, it's entertaining, it's good for the pro athlete to exude confidence and cockiness like that. For a young player, having that high confidence with a coach that supports that kind of attitude (not Jacques Martin) can do wonders. 30 players to watch By far my most favourite post to write every year. A (long) update: Bobby Ryan is now a bona fide first line winger; Bogosian's one of the game's hardest hitters; Horton hasn't scored 35 for the B's yet; Myers had an injury setback; Giordano is still better than Bouwmeester; McBain is coming along nicely; Hjalmarsson has been underwhelming; Quincey is back on Detroit; Russell is now a Blue with less pressure; Niskanen has been great for the Pens; questions still abound about Filppula; Hemsky can't stay healthy (again); Kulikov is the Panthers' most dangerous offensive defenseman, not Campbell; Schenn was key for the Flyers; Burns is now in San Jose; Subban is regarded as the league's young elite; Colin Wilson will crack 50 points next year (fearless prediction); Greene has been good but not nearly as he once was; I'm convinced Josh Bailey is done; Zuccarello-Aasen has returned to Europe with an NHL out clause; Karlsson is a Norris nominee; Giroux is a top ten talent; Turris looks rejuvenated in Ottawa; Paul Martin has been a rock; Demers regressed; jury's still out on Berglund; Hedman was one of Tampa's most reliable; I think Phaneuf's playing his best since Calgary; Raymond's tenure in Vancouver is likely over; and Carlson's Washington's best.
  2. It's playoff hockey time, my favourite time of the year. It's the time of year when lying on the couch watching playoff hockey at 4 PM and opening up the window for a nice breeze constitutes as "enjoying the nice weather." Whatever, with the MLB regular season and both NBA and NHL playoffs starting this might as well be my winter hibernation. And lo and behold, the greatest time of the year has also given us the best possible matchup in the first round - and it's certainly not because I think they're the shakiest team going in (that's Los Angeles from the West and Philadelphia from the East for me). I want the Blackhawks because I want to kick their butts. There is no question that the Canucks are the best (regular season) team this year and with Salo, Edler, Bieksa, Hamhuis, Ballard, and Ehrhoff all healthy, our confidence should be at an all-time high. When the Canucks do beat them (in 5 games, no less), it'll be a little less satisfying because their big "Boogey Man" from last year is hitting the courses early with the rest of the Atlanta Thrashers. It just wouldn't be as sweet a victory without Dustin Byfuglien looking dejected on the Blackhawks bench, but a series win is a series win, and the Canucks will have the final trump card. <img src="http://www.vancouversun.com/sports/2995856.bin?size=620x400"class="imageFloatLeftFramed"> Other than the Boston-Montreal series (way too many storylines, the best being Price vs. Thomas), no other series has the potential to be more historically significant in a rivalry than this one. (I guess you could count Philadelphia-Buffalo, who will meet for the 9th time in history, but some of those series have been duds). Consider the consequences: if the Blackhawks manage to upset, they WILL have Vancouver's number. A 2 vs. 3-seed series could go either way, but if an 8 seed upsets the league's best team, they walk into the second round with sky-high confidence (which is also a reason why when lower seeds upset in the first round they tend to win in the second too). If the Canucks win, they are now the league's best team without any supposed weaknesses. Only Detroit will be viewed as a potential weakness but only because of their pedigree and reputation and goaltending's an issue. San Jose might be a really tough opponent too if they could bring the same intensity to brought in their final regular season tune-up but their depth doesn't hold a candle to the Canucks'. Either way, it's going to be an interesting series, blowout or not. Here's 5 things to watch for: 1. Roberto Luongo enters this series as the X factor (again and again) and this time's there's really no excuses – the Canucks have given him the rest during the season he obviously needed to stay fresh. He's said so himself, he's playing the best hockey of his career. Alright, Roberto, show us what you've really got. You may have a gold medal around your neck but we want the parade. And for the record, I don't think Luongo's leash is very long (if things go really south there's no way you don't play Schneider even though he is a rookie). 2. Who steps up their game for the Hawks? The depth isn't there and other than the usual suspects (Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp) their best offensively gifted player is Michal Frolik who has 3 goals in 28 games. Tomas Kopecky will stir up some trouble but he should be easier to handle since he's about 50 lbs. lighter than Byfuglien. It's nothing a Kevin Bieksa-stare can't handle. 3. The only guy I've seen who's always been able to really get the Sedins off their game is Dave Bolland. Unfortunately, along with Troy Brouwer, both are unlikely to dress for the series opener. Bolland has a concussion and with those things it's always dicey. Like I said, if the Canucks win it won't be quite the same, but they're still the Blackhawks, no? 4. Maturity is often the issue with Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows and by distancing themselves from any extracurriculars Kesler cracked the 40-goal barrier. There were times though, where you could see the old Kesler start to creep back, especially when his wingers weren't making the plays or when things weren't going right for himself. It's going to be a pressure packed series and there will be all the more need for Kesler and Burrows to stay on an even keel. (As an aside, my two picks for the Hart are between Daniel and Corey Perry, but I also think that Kesler's the team MVP. How does that work? How does the second-best player on his team be considered for the Hart? Honestly, I don't even know. I can't really explain it until you watch a Canucks game. Also, shouldn't the Canucks should given an award to Mr. Kesler for his little sit-down with Ryan? Without him, no 41-goal Kesler.) 5. That's compared to the Hawks, who sounded more relieved to be just in the playoffs. They didn't bring their A game against Detroit (with shaky goaltending) and they had to count on Marc Crawford and the Stars to choke (who didn't see that coming?) to make it into the top 8. Some of the players couldn't even watch the game. When that happens the players are more relieved than psyched to play in the playoffs. If the Blackhawks can go from "happy to be there" to "brand new season" mode before game one they will be much more competitive. The Hawks entered last summer as a team with a lot of swagger and confidence. That's definitely not the story anymore. Can and will the Canucks take care of that? For more hockey stuff visit my new (still kind of under construction) site Armchair Hockey. Click for my Eastern Conference Preview, Hart, Jack Adams, Selke, Norris, and Masterton picks. Western Conference Preview and Vezina, Calder picks coming soon.
  3. I agree, this year's playoffs is going to hard to predict (more on that in the future playoff post) but for various reasons (Kesler's emergence, blueline depth, rested Luongo). However, going back to 2004, when the Canucks started to string together division banners, the team has never made it past the semifinals. Divison banner years in 2004, 2007, 2009, 2010, have resulted in two upsets and in the two losses against higher seeds (#2 Ducks in 2007, #2 Hawks in 2010), the Canucks have only one three games combined (combined score 14-7, I think). And in that 2007 first-round series against Dallas, we got really lucky because we should've lost and had no business of being in the second round against the Ducks either. There's also the manner in which we've lost as well, and the last two years have been ugly (5-1, 7-5). It certainly has looked like we don't belong. I think the same can be said about the Sharks and Capitals. They just don't look like they belong despite being regular season monsters.
  4. That reminds me of another thing - despite all the praises this team has received, this team doesn't have the same respect a Cup-winning team does. Going into round one, if I was a #8 team, would I be more scared of the high-flying Caps and a rested Ovechkin or a struggling Flyers squad? It's a no-brainer, I'm more terrified of the Flyers because I know they've been there and know what it takes while the pressure's on the Caps to perform and I KNOW they can cave under pressure. It's the same deal with Vancouver. Until we win a Cup, there will always be detractors. Nobody's talking about just how average the Habs team is (asides from Carey Price) because they've gone on long runs and have a trump card in the form of a Cup title from '93. Criticism comes with the territory of being number one and failing to win important games. The Canucks are in the same boat as the Sharks and Caps. It's tough to hear about all the whining in this city because Vancouver can be such a bandwagon hockey town and there are tons of Canucks fans who are better than that.
  5. "I'm going to go out on a limb here and I'm going to say that the Vancouver Canucks will not make it out of the first round... no matter who they play," says Theo Fleury. Soon after Fleury made those comments, he was lambasted on Twitter (@TheoFleury14) and accused of being a misinformed troll. Ah, the beauty of social media and the Internet. Now, before everyone here starts getting their pitchforks and lanterns in a city-wide manhunt, let's step back and discuss this. First, while I disagree with Fleury's prediction, he has made it clear that he's going against the grain. There's nothing inherently wrong with that - it would've been akin to saying that Boston U would've upset Kansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament. You're going to get laughed at, and Fleury clearly knew what he was going to get, but it's not out of the realm of possibility. If the Canucks did indeed bow out in the first round, doesn't that make Fleury a genius? Like it or not, he makes some great points in his argument. He even concedes that the Sedins' skills are mind-blowing. Second, if there's anybody's opinion about this matter that you should respect, it's Theo Fleury's. Very few players have made it to the NHL with a size disadvantage and even fewer have played with the same amount of fire Fleury had back in his heyday. He's an Olympic gold medalist, a Stanley Cup winner, and overcome substance abuse and depression. He's been on league-leading teams, teams that have choked, and teams that have won. If anyone knows about fighting a battles, win or lose, it's Fleury. Expectations are sky high in Vancouver - anything short of a Cup title and the President's Trophy this squad will win won't mean anything. The ultimate prize is still the Cup, so whatever happens between Opening Night and the last game of the playoffs is just all white noise when all is said and done. Jason Botchford isn't sure why there's been so much criticism directed at the Canucks, and more specifically, Roberto Luongo, but it's clearly because the Canucks have never, even been in this position. Think about it. Which team is the most criticized in the MLB? The Yankees, because they're a historically great team with an insane payroll that isn't a reflected on the field. The NBA? The Miami Heat, because LeBron James and his buddies teamed up and have formed one of the most talented nucleus in league history and promised 6 championships yet still struggle to stay atop the East. The NFL? The New England Patriots, because Tom Brady's pretty boy image was front and center along with their historic 16-0 season. The Vancouver Canucks are the best team in the NHL. They sit comfortably atop the league standings and boast the league's best special teams. Luongo is statistically having one of the best seasons in his career. Make no mistake - the Canucks are public enemy number one in all 29 other arenas in the NHL. Every single team wants to beat the Canucks. They're going to get picked apart by fans, experts, GMs, and coaches because they're the team to beat. They're the litmus test. And one of the easiest bones to pick with the Canucks? The fact that they've been blown out by the Hawks in two consecutive years, and in both years Luongo has been less than stellar. Pressure to win in the playoffs comes from regular season success. It's the logical step. What people want to know are the ones at the top. It's an exercise in social psychology as it is about sports. The reason why so many top teams choke (Washington) is because there's much more pressure on them to perform. And so many upsets happen every year (Montreal) because there's less pressure. Some teams thrive off pressure, some don't. So far, it's pretty fair to say the Canucks don't. Some people in Vancouver are up in arms because they can't take the criticism. Well, now we know how the Sharks felt the past couple of years and we know how Sidney Crosby feels on a nightly basis. You want to know why nobody picks apart the Red Wings' game even though Jimmy Howard really isn't that good, Jonathan Ericsson has hit a wall in his development, and Tomas Holmstrom refuses to fight? Because they've won Cups. Stop whining about not getting enough respect. Suck it up, play hard, and win the damn thing.
  6. For the Ducks, it's all Hiller. No Hiller, no chance. Same deal with the Preds and Pekka Rinne.
  7. Certain Canucks players and fans may not be so quick to make bold statements, but here's mine: write it down, the Vancouver Canucks are your 2011 President's Trophy winners. No other team in the NHL has cracked the century mark and the Canucks are already 5 points over. Now that's settled, I want to shift you attention to the big March tournament. No, not the one where Mike Krzyzewski's helmet-hair and Kansas' Morris twins are the prime time feature. The OTHER NCAA tournament, the one with Canucks goaltending prospect Joe Cannata. <img src="http://www.merrimackathletics.com/images/mice/2007-09_Images/2008_vs._BC/Joe_Cannata_3.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Cannata was drafted in the 6th round, 173rd overall in the 2009 draft, the 13th ranked North American goalie and a product of Boston College High School and the US Development Program, where he led the U-18 American squad to a championship at the Five Nations tournament. Now in his junior year with the Merrimack Warriors, who play out of North Andover, MA, Cannata has led his team to the school's first NCAA Division I birth since 1988. It's quite a feat considering the staying power of more well-known hockey programs like Michigan, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Boston U, Boston College, and North Dakota. With 25 wins, a 2.44 GAA and a save percentage north of .910, Cannata has been the Warriors' MVP all year. Like Steve Nash during his days at Santa Clara, the two unheralded athletes have led their mid-level programs to NCAA berths, and considering how many schools are part of the NCAA family, it's quite a feat, surely one that won't go unnoticed by Mike Gillis. There's been questions about the Canucks' future in net, and with Cory Schneider's strong play some have been brave enough to put forth the notion that the Boston College product should be Vancouver's no. 1 netminder. But these types of questions and headaches are the ones GMs love to have, and that's not mentioning that the Canucks have a promising Swedish import in Eddie Lack, currently polishing his craft with the Moose. Like Schneider, Cannata is a Massachusetts native and NCAA product. It seems as though the Canucks may have found their goaltending goldmine. For a complete list of drafted players in the tournament and the 16-team bracket, click here. Merrimack will play ninth-ranked Notre Dame Irish in the first round, highlighted by Riley Sheahan, a Red Wings pick that may eventually turn out to be a solid third-line checking centre. Other players to watch: Carolina's Brian Dumoulin (Boston College) and Justin Faulk (Minnesota-Duluth), two of the higher ranked prospects in the Hurricanes system whose playing styles translate very well to the NHL game. Columbus' Cam Atkinson (Boston College), drafted 157th overall in 2008, the 5'8" winger has some of the best wheels and hands in the college ranks. With his second consecutive 30-goal season for the Eagles, some scouts compare him to Boston College alum Brian Gionta, who scored 30+ goals three times for the Hockey East heavyweight. Detroit's Riley Sheahan (Notre Dame), who will face Cannata and the Warriors in the first round. While he doesn't do anything particularly well, he's a player that projects to be an effective NHL player given a couple more years in the NCAA and Grand Rapids. Los Angeles' Derek Forbort (North Dakota), who I think is the reason why the Kings were so willing to part with Colten Teubert in the Dustin Penner deal. The 15th overall pick in the 2010 draft, the 6'5" defenseman plays both ends of the ice very well. Minnesota's Jason Zucker (Denver), who flew way under the radar in the draft and was plucked by the Wild 59th overall and represented USA at the most recent World Jr. Championships. Zucker, only a freshmen, has potted 21 goals this year, compared to Cam Atkinson, who had less than 10 in his first year. Montreal's Danny Kristo (North Dakota), who was Zucker's teammate at the WJC. The Habs have always been pretty good at finding NCAA talent (Ryan McDonagh, Max Pacioretty, Louis Leblanc) and Kristo is no different. New Jersey's Jon Merrill (Michigan) is one of the most highly-touted prospects in the NCAA. Those who the Devils gave up a lot to get Kovalchuk forget that their pipeline isn't that bare - Merrill's mobility and puck skills are top notch and Jacob Josefsen, Mattias Tedenby, and Alexander Vasyunov are slowly making their way into the big leagues. The Islanders' Blake Kessel (New Hampshire) is Phil's younger brother, but unlike Phil he's a defenseman. The Rangers' Chris Kreider (Boston College) is a guy you have to watch. The big, burly power forward can score at will, and with 10 goals in two years for USA at the WJC he's already tied with Modano and LeClair and trails only JR's 13 and Gionta's 11. He was recently named MVP of the Beanpot Classic, an annual matchup between Boston U and BC. Ottawa's Loui Caporusso (Michigan), one of the few seniors to watch who will undoubtedly make the jump to Binghamton next year. Pittsburgh's Beauregard Bennett (Denver), better known as 'Beau', is seen as the long-term solution to Crosby's wing. St. Louis' Jaden Schwartz (Colorado College), who is one of two Schwartz brothers that makes up 2/3 of the Tigers' top line. I thought Schwartz was the best forward for Canada at the WJC until his injury when Ryan Johansen stepped up, but despite his small size Schwartz is a can't-miss prospect. Toronto's Jimmy Hayes (Boston College), who has 20 goals this year and joins an impressive crop of NCAA forwards in Toronto's system that features Christian Hanson (Notre Dame), Tyler Bozak (Denver), and Jerry D'Amigo (RPI before leaving for Kitchener). My readers (... however few) will know that I'm a big fan of NCAA hockey. Well, that's my shameless plug for the tournament but at least there's a Canuck in there, which really doesn't happen all that often. C'mon, wouldn't you have loved to see what kind of player Kesler was when he was at Ohio St.? Or how fast Mason Raymond was compared to his peers at Minnesota-Duluth? Or even see if you think Kevin Bieksa would've made the NHL after watching him at Bowling Green?
  8. All due respect but you're missing two MAJOR points. 1. Parity. Never has there been as much parity in the NHL. In Beliveau and Gretzky's days, there wasn't this much talent and there wasn't as many teams. I think everyone can agree on that. In a recent interview with Pavel Bure, he said the biggest difference in this league and the days in which he played was the skill level. Paraphrasing Bure: "Guys who are now 200 lbs. can skate like the guys who were 170 lbs. back in the 90s." 2. It's a different league. Beliveau and Gretzky came from distinctly different eras. The CBA signaled a completely different era. Hockey's changed a lot over the past 20 years, from equipment to player types and attributes. It's an unfair comparison to make. It's like saying, "Gretzky would've dominated the league today" or saying "Crosby would've dominated forty years ago because he's so much stronger and bigger compared to the guys from the '70s." It's an utterly useless argument to compare players from different eras.
  9. It's all politics. Brian Burke got absolutely FLAMED for his comments comparing Mike Brown and Sidney Crosby. He was right. In any situation, sports, jobs, business, current affairs, politics plays a HUGE role. Should Malkin have been suspended for that hit on Mitchell? I think so - at the very least that was a boarding, a charging, and a game misconduct. Am I telling you to feel bad for Crosby? Not really, and it's hard to tell anyone to sympathize with a player that earns $8.7 million a year. But keep in mind two things 1) the shelf-life of a pro hockey player isn't very long and the average AHL makes roughly $55,000. It's not bad but with the punishment these guys take it's not exactly fair value so we can't fault them for wanting a lot of money. It's their right. Some players side with reason and others just want to cash in. It's not unlike any opportunist in society. 2) If Crosby retires, this is a huge blow to the NHL. If Mitchell retires, and no disrespect to the local hometown boy, but who cares? Crosby is our generation's generational player. Our parents had Gretzky and our grandparents had Orr. In regards to generosity, why do you think Atlanta has a team? It's politics. Atlanta is the one of the US' biggest TV markets. Having Atlanta, LA, NY, and Florida makes that much more appetizing for ESPN or Versus to cut a TV deal. They're numbers guys. Gary Bettman and the NHL isn't any different.
  10. Like Trevor Gillies and his antics in the Penguins brouhaha, the league's negative headlines have far outweighed the good. Case in point - Sidney Crosby has now missed two months with a concussion and is now unlikely to return this season, and while that topic has dominated Maclean's covers and sparked talk of amending the rulebook in this week's GM meetings, the best story this season has been the playoff race. Never before do I remember such a close race in the West and two such intriguing storylines with the Leafs and Devils. But one thing's for sure: the Canucks will have to have a colossal collapse and the Wings would have to catch fire if the want to claim the West title. The former is unlikely to happen. This means that the Canucks enter the post-season as the number one seed, locking up home-ice advantage for, perhaps, the entire journey. With so much media scrutiny, so much pressure, and so many past meltdowns, you can't help but think that the Canucks are looking ahead to who they might face. They probably aren't, since they're such a level-headed team, and are concentrating on finishing the season on a high note. But of Minnesota, Anaheim, Nashville, Calgary, Dallas, and Phoenix (excluding Chicago and Los Angeles, who both have 7 wins in their last 10 and are most likely to finish in the top 5), who does Vancouver match-up the best? The worst? It is becoming increasing unlikely that the Wild will make the playoffs, but if they do, it'll present the Canucks with one of the most interesting match-ups. it's no secret - the Canucks stink at the Excel Energy Center in Minnesota, save Cory Schneider. The Canucks are tough at home and if they sweep the first two games then it's all fine and dandy. The only story that really matters is what to do if Luongo struggles. It's unlikely to happen for the 2011 Vezina-nominee (yes, I said it) but having such a strong backup eventually creates goalie controversies to varying degrees. The Ducks have a chance if they have Jonas Hiller, another would-be Vezina-nominee had he not been sidelined with vertigo, in the lineup. Dan Ellis may be hot right now and Ray Emery may be a feel-good story, but even with the addition of Beauchemin the Ducks just don't have enough depth up and down the roster. If the Canucks can play a clean game and keep Teemu Selanne off the powerplay and keep the Ryan-Getzlaf-Perry line from dominating, this should be an easy series. The Predators have not won a single playoff series in their history and it's not going to happen this year if they face the Canucks. Even with the unheralded Pekka Rinne, like the Ducks, the Preds just don't have the depth. The Shea Weber-led defense may frustrate the Canucks but the lack of scoring oomph in the Preds lineup may be even more frustrating for Barry Trotz. Let's not mentioning that the Preds will be playing 5 defensemen instead of 6 due to Shane O'Brien's constant bouts of Roxy flu. Of all the teams mentioned, Calgary scares me the most. They have a good goalie, an experienced blueline, and the ultimate warrior in Jarome Iginla. They've been a completely different team since Darryl Sutter was fired and are now playing the kind of hockey everyone expected them to play. They've got enough grit, size, toughness, and skill to at least make this a series. David Moss and Rene Bourque provides some good depth. The only questions here are the Canucks' health on defense and Calgary's poor matchups at centre against the Canucks. The Stars were in danger of missing the playoffs a couple weeks back after Brad Richards went down with an injury and the team was sent into a mini-downward spiral. Since then, the Stars have 6 wins in their last 10 and are trending up. Alex Goligoski was a good pickup for a team lacking offense from the blueline, even if the price was a little high. Marc Crawford is behind the bench and on squads that he's coached that don't feature Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, he's only made it past the quarterfinals once. There's nothing on this Dallas team that really scares me - except for a potential writhing Mike Ribeiro suffering from extreme "back pain." There's just enough drive from Brenden Morrow and Langenbrunner and skill from Benn and the very underrated Loui Eriksson to cause the Canucks some trouble, but remember that in head-to-head matchups this year the Canucks swept the season series outscoring them 20-5. Phoenix is an interesting team. They've got a great coach, good goaltending, a mobile defense headlined by Keith Yandle, and a crop of forwards that gets the job done without an elite forward. If Ilya Bryzgalov gets hot, and we've seen this happen with many, many undeserving Cup finalists, watch out. But that's about it. But here's the REAL low down. When Kyle Wellwood returned with the Sharks, he was quite vocal about the experience and maturity level in the Canucks' dressing room, saying that there's still "lessons to learn." In a way, he is right - the Sharks look much better right now than I've seen in years past and the Capitals enter the post-season as a virtual unknown because of their new commitment to playing defense. Both teams have choked in the playoffs rather dramatically. Upsets over the number one seed in the first round are rare in any sport, but for the past two consecutive seasons, it's happened in the NHL. In 2009, the President's-winning Sharks were upset by the Ducks despite the Sharks setting franchise records in wins (53) and points (117). In 2010, the Habs defeated the President's-winning Capitals in the first round despite the Caps' awe-inspiring 121 regular season points. Both the Ducks and Habs featured hot goalies - Jonas Hiller had shutouts in Games 1 and 4, perhaps the vital games in any series, and everyone knows the Jaroslav Halak story. This is why Phoenix may pose the biggest threat if Ilya Bryzgalov, or even Miikka Kiprusoff, gets hot. The Canucks are set to shatter their franchise record of 105 points and could very will finish the season close to around 115 (7 wins in 11 games - not impossible).
  11. Another thing, I was going to talk about the number of teams that have won the Cup based on skill alone. (I'll save it for another day - it's worth a post of its own). Hard to really think of one. The Wings, during their glory days, had a supreme Grind Line. The Flyers, Hawks, Penguins, and Wings all have really strong supporting casts. I have yet to see any Ian Laperrieres, Dave Bollands, Max Talbots, or Danny Clearys on this team. Granted, no player is the same, but could you really see Tanner Glass, as good as he has been all year, score the Cup winner like Talbot?
  12. Desperation and intensity is certainly a big issue with this club and has been for the past two years. For some reason, when the going gets tough, this team just fades. It's not any singular player or coach's fault, but any fan who watches enough games can see that this team goes through lulls where they just can't do anything right. It's visibly different from Crosby's "I will destroy you" look and Mike Richards' "I'm not quitting" attitude. You're absolutely right about Vigneault's double-shifting tendencies - I have a feeling by the time Kesler was about to go against Chara he was already gassed from the previous five games. Is Vigneault a good coach? Certainly, and his track record proves it. But sometimes I wonder.
  13. So at the end of the day, still no Zenon Konopka. That's unfortunate. I really think he could've helped. But Mike Gillis had the most productive deadline day of his career, bringing in veterans Chris Higgins from Florida and Maxim Lapierre from Anaheim. On a day in which little activity was anticipated, in part due to the large number of trades that occurred weeks before the deadline, Gillis accounted for 1/8 of all total trades. This despite Vancouver supposedly being one of the quietest teams. How do these two players change the overall makeup of the team? <img src="http://www3.pictures.zimbio.com/gi/Toronto+Maple+Leafs+v+Florida+Panthers+aokOrc1maZil.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Chris Higgins, #20 The former Yale University product was selected 14th overall by Montreal in the 2002 draft, a year that produced very few impact players. The 2002 class produced only four all-stars (Rick Nash, Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Semin, and Cam Ward) and Higgins is only one of four players to have scored more than 100 career goals. However, Higgins' offensive struggles in recent years has been well documented, having been traded three times in the past two years, having been part of the deal that sent Scott Gomez to Montreal and Olli Jokinen to Calgary. While his 20-something goal-scoring days are over, Higgins is still a big-bodied forward with good skating ability who is able to play in the top nine. Maxim Lapierre, #40 Lapierre is an agitator, a fourth-line centre that brings speed and tenacity to the lineup. Another Montreal pick from the 2003 draft, Lapierre was instrumental in the Habs' upset of Washington last year. His speed, size, and general physicality caused problems in the offensive zone. But like Burrows and Kesler in year's past, Lapierre's antics, chirping and diving (he was once penalized for it in a playoff game) to name a few, began to limit his effectiveness as a hockey player. His (somewhat public) feud with Jacques Martin over his diminishing playing time earned him a ticket out of town, where even the grumpy Randy Carlyle couldn't harness him (Lapierre played 3:09 in his last game as a Duck and had started out on the third line). But like I've said before, if Gillis was to acquire a player, he better run it by Vigneault because there's no point in acquiring a player if your coach won't play him. That won't happen here with such an established veteran locker room presence with a clear focus on winning the Cup, and not to mention that Vigneault was once Lapierre's junior coach. Of course, lost in the shuffle is former Minnesota-Duluth star MacGregor Sharp (what an awesome name), who was acquired along with Lapierre from Anaheim. If Minnesota-Duluth rings a bell, it should: Mason Raymond was a Bulldog for two years, as was Evan Oberg, who went to Florida for Higgins. Current NHLers Jason Garrison (Florida) and Matt Niskanen (Pittsburgh) are also Minnesota-Duluth products. While Minnesota-Duluth is not exactly known as a NCAA powerhouse, it has become one of the better programs today, currently ranked 11th according to US College Hockey. However, Sharp is not expected to have a significant impact for Vancouver or Manitoba. And what did the three players cost us? A minor leaguer in Joel Perrault, two 3rd round picks, and Evan Oberg, who has since been leapfrogged by Chris Tanev, Lee Sweatt, Yann Sauve, and perhaps Kevin Connauton on the depth charts, making him expendable. You can certainly say that Gillis got great value, not sacrificing anybody on the current roster or significant prospect in the pipeline to nab two NHL veterans. But what about Marty Reasoner and Zenon Konopka, two players featured heavily in the Canucks' rumour mill? Well, there are reports that since Reasoner's wife is expecting soon, it didn't seem right for Tallon to deal him. Kudos to Tallon. And Konopka? The early rumour was that the Ducks were about to acquire the big centre but balked at Garth Snow's 2nd round pick asking price, which, to say the least, is idiotic. And we continue to wonder how and why Snow still has a job. <img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/images/upload/2011/01/107894055_std.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">While Lapierre will most certainly become a fixture on the fourth line, finally giving the team stability in that spot, the more interesting case is Higgins. He certainly has the ability to put the puck in the net but so do Mason Raymond and Jeff Tambellini and Mikael Samuelsson, but it's not the ability that's in question, it's the consistency. Higgins isn't the most consistent player by any means but at least he gives Vigneault other options after a clearly frustrated Kesler was trying to keep his mouth shut after a painful loss against Boston. Higgins can line up on the left wing on the second line with Samuelsson on the right, or even on the third line alongside Malhotra should Raymond or Tambellini re-find their touch. Given Higgins' size and physicality, it should relieve a little pressure off Kesler's shoulders, who has taken a beating every night on the powerplay and neither Raymond nor Samuelsson are as willing as Kesler to mix it up in the corners. That's not mentioning that Vigneault has lost so much faith in the rest of his lineup that Kesler's TOI/G has soared to over 22 minutes a game (including 26+ vs. Montreal) for the last six games. Even Sidney Crosby only averages around 22 minutes a night. But for the moment, Kesler will have to continue to keep his mouth shut because Higgins is still two weeks away from playing due to a fractured thumb. With the acquisition of Higgins, I hope Raymond hears the message loud and clear: score or sit. EDIT: Looks like Lapierre will be wearing 40, not 24. NOTE: I feel like I've been getting away from blogging about the Canucks, and since this is a Canucks site, I need to get back on track. For a breakdown of all the big deals, visit www.armchairhockey.net or follow me on Twitter @jasonchen16. Thanks for reading.
  14. The trade deadline is tomorrow and in all likelihood the Canucks will not be making any changes. It's understandable, given the status quo with the Canucks atop the league with a healthy 15-point lead over second-place Minnesota in the division. This team boasts some really high-end skill, but given the recent performances of Mason Raymond, the on-and-off play of Mikael Samuelsson, and the general ineffectiveness of the bottom six save Tanner Glass and Manny Malhotra on most nights, you have to wonder if this team is deep enough offensively to win the Cup. I'm not trying to be negative nor am I pushing the panic button, but it certainly a legitimate question to ask. When I envisioned the Canucks winning the Cup, I had imagined that Cody Hodgson, Jordan Schroeder, or some young player on a rookie contract would play a significant role on the team. Given how there is now more emphasis on building through the draft with the CBA, no team can win the Cup without significant contributions from cheap players. When the Blackhawks won, Patrick Kane (3.725), Jonathan Toews (2.8), Andrew Ladd (1.55), Brent Seabrook (3.5), Dustin Byfuglien (3) and Duncan Keith (1.475) all had cap hits under $4 million. The same goes the 2009 Penguins with Evgeni Malkin (3.834) and Jordan Staal (2.2). Even the runner-ups share the same trend: the 2009 Red Wings had Henrik Zetterberg at a $2.65 million cap hit and Johan Franzen was earning a shade over $1 million while the 2010 Flyers featured a breakout from Claude Giroux. The point is, you need cheap players to significantly outperform the value of the contracts. The players I've listed can easily double or triple their original value on the open market. It's not enough for a $3 million player to produce $4 million-type numbers. You need a Zetterberg or a Toews, who both were under $3 million, to give you $6 million-type, MVP-type production to win. Since it's very unlikely that a veteran can outplay the value of his contract due to their relatively older age and lack of upside, the only way to get such "value contracts" is to deploy cheap yet effective young players. Looking up and down the Canucks roster and salary structure, nobody on our current roster fits the bill except Alex Burrows, who is currently struggling. Everyone is at or close to market value and nobody's going to significantly outperform the value of their contracts. Particularly concerning are the forwards, where it often feels as though the Canucks don't have any weapons other than the Sedins and Ryan Kesler. Nobody else scores on a real consistent basis and the Canucks are so close to the cap that adding a significant forward without losing a roster player is out of the realm of possibility. Mike Gillis has already gone on record to say that he doesn't want to move anyone. That's also another way of saying that should anything go wrong, the Canucks will have to look for the answer internally. <img src="http://cache4.asset-cache.net/xc/90321829.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=77BFBA49EF878921CC759DF4EBAC47D06676A481A1E3B5C1F1C3E993EFDEA9D9664B3929E18EEB79E30A760B0D811297"class="imageFloatRightFramed">In steps Cody Hodgson. The highly touted prospect's cap hit is just $1.67 million and I think he does have the ability to make some significant contributions. It may not be this year, but he is signed until 2013. However, it's ridiculous to even think that he can make any sort of contribution, or even begin to, if he's stapled to the bench and playing five minutes a night. How is Hodgson, or any player, going to improve playing five minutes a night? That fourth-line centre spot has been a joke all season (anyone miss Ryan Johnson yet? I do), featuring a handful of call-ups in Alex Bolduc, Mario Bliznak, and Joel Perrault and players playing out of position with Jeff Tambellini, Raffi Torres, Glass, and even Raymond. I'd rather have Hodgson playing significant minutes in Manitoba and bring up a player who is a short-term solution. If not, Gillis better go out and grab someone... like Zenon Konopka. But, of course, Gillis will have to go through Vigneault first, because there's no use acquiring a player Vigneault ultimately is reluctant to use (Ballard). Vigneault is notoriously stubborn, and more often than not he's right, but how long is he going to stick to his guns? The thing with Vigneault is, if he doesn't like you, he's not going to put you in a position to succeed, which makes the odds for the underdog even worse. Even though Max Pacioretty didn't approach the situation the right way in Montreal, he was certainly right when he spoke out against Jacques Martin using him in the bottom six. A talented offensive player, Pacioretty knew he couldn't succeed without playing in the top six. It's a logical argument - you put scorers in your top six and checkers in the bottom six. So what, exactly, does playing Hodgson exclusively on the fourth line accomplish? Sergei Shirokov showed some great hands with Kesler but by the end of the next game he was on the fourth line again. Keith Ballard, who has some nice offensive instincts a kin to Jovanovski's in his ability to jump up on the play (I swear I'll stop the comparison someday), gets less powerplay ice-time than the decidedly average Aaron Rome (0:31 to 0:15 per game - granted, Ballard doesn't have a slapper but still). Tambellini is better than Raymond in a checking role with his physicality, but despite Gillis and Vigneault singing his praises he refuses to move Tambellini from the fourth line. By putting Kesler on the top powerplay unit (not even Vigneault's own idea) the Canucks have the league's powerplay, but the second unit is also suffering. Burrows and Raymond, two (fairly) regulars on the second unit, have just 5 PPG combined (they had 12 last year), one less than Henrik's season total. The Canucks feature three of the league's top 15 scorers this year (costing roughly $17 million combined) but the offensive depth of the team suffers for it. So this brings me to my next point. There's no point in trying to keep Christian Ehrhoff beyond this season. This ridiculous rash of injuries to our blueline aside, with Ballard, Hamhuis, Edler, and Bieksa, who I would re-sign, is a pretty good four-man group growing forward. It's comparable to Pittsburgh's Letang-Orpik-Martin-Michalek group, which I would say may be one of the deepest four-man groups in the league. Seeing as how Seabrook and Byfuglien both signed deals worth more than $5 million per season, the market value for Ehrhoff is extremely high. If he isn't willing to take a salary around $4 million, there's no point in keeping him because this Canucks squad needs another legitimate top six forward. Samuelsson is not the answer and it's becoming increasingly clear that Raymond is not either, despite me having him pegged for 30 goals before the season. Kesler's frustration is written on the wall. It couldn't have been clearer last night. He's tired of carrying the second line. Of course, this doesn't mean Ehrhoff's going to be dealt at the deadline. Far from it, but depending on how well Ehrhoff and the team performs in the playoffs, he could be a huge trade chip at the draft on June 24. For more hockey material, visit my new website, www.armchairhockey.net or follow me on Twitter @jasonchen16. Thanks for reading.
  15. 1. Lupul hasn't been successful since the post-lockout season. There's a reason he did not crack Anaheim's top-6 this season and honestly, TO just acquired a more injury-prone version of Stempniak. All that and his upside is worse than Versteeg's. I have to disagree. If you excuse that horrendous Oilers season, Lupul was a 50-point player before his return to Anaheim where he suffered a back injury and an infection and lost 25 lbs. I think he's a much better player than Stempniak, who thrived in Phoenix in part because Tippett is a better coach and has a better system. Hard to say if Lupul or Versteeg has the higher upside five years down the road, but it certainly looks like Versteeg has the upper hand, if only because he's healthier. Prospects are hit or miss. Even the "can't miss" ones, miss. Like Alex Daigle and Pavel Brendl. I was watching the Minnesota-Wisconsin game last night and Gardiner certainly needs some work. I can see why people describe him as fluid, because for a tall guy he's got a very smooth stride, but his reaction time just isn't there. The one goal he scored, off a long rebound with a completely out of position goalie, took him about two seconds to coral the puck and shoot it. That's just way too long. He certainly needs to react faster and read the play better. Fowler was an interesting case because he blew everyone away at camp. That's not mentioning that the Ducks blueline was so thin to start. Had Fowler been a Leaf I don't think he would've cracked the lineup as easily - going into the season the Leafs' defense was supposed to be one of their strong points. Hard to say if Gardiner's going to be a star, odds are he won't, but it always seems like any prospect in Toronto is doomed to fail. Same goes for Kadri, who will never live up to the hype. Nobody looks good besides Phaneuf. You either look terrible because he's piling on the points (which he hasn't done since Calgary) or because you're trying to cover his butt on 2-on-1s. Niedermayer was certainly a big reason why he was so good, but Beauchemin was one of the few really consistent Ducks. Chicago is losing because even with Frolik they still don't have the kind of depth they had last year and their goaltending isn't very good. I do believe Frolik will stay in Chicago because there's no use acquiring him if you're not thinking long term. If the Hawks are looking for a playoff push I would've looked at some other more experienced depth players and UFAs, like a Dvorak or even Stillman (cap restrictions aside). Three games isn't a big sample size so I'm willing to give Frolik the benefit of the doubt so far, and Quenneville's been away from the team. Tallon has drafted extremely well in Florida, but that organization's been known to draft some good players. No one pans out in Florida because the fans don't care - as a hockey player you reach a certain point and you question why you're even considering playing hard at all, like Horton and Bouwmeester. I'm hopeful Weber stays in Nashville, and while contract talks have stalled I'd be surprised if he takes the Kovalchuk route. I think this is the best Preds team we've seen in quite some time. The much criticized Lombardi and Fisher make a good 2a and 2b centre while I think they have something special in Colin Wilson and Cal O'Reilly. Defense is unquestionably deep because of the way they draft. The only thing that's eluded them is playoff success and if they get home-ice advantage they will win. This is the year. Spezza's an interesting case because he's by far the most talented player on the Sens. I'd give him a new coach and gameplan before I give up on him. Him and Karlsson are the two players I'd be most reluctant to deal based on skill and Alfredsson for sentimental reasons. 6. Anderson is a UFA. Elliott is an RFA. So Ottawa essentially dumps cap space for the summer while Colorado gets a backup locked up for next season without even trying. Done. I expect both teams to perhaps push hard for Vokoun, Bryzgalov and possibly even Howard, who Detroit has yet to lock up. (Because Howard will be the goat if they lose early in the playoffs.)
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